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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Water and Improved Livelihoods

Zahira Kharsany

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 29 2008 (IPS) - "Sanitation may hold the key to success or failure of the MDGs. It is really a time bomb in terms of health and the environment, waiting to be detonated," Professor Damas Mashauri told participants at a seminar on water and sustainable development taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

More than a billion people across the world lack adequate access to water. Credit:  Julius Mwelu/IRIN

More than a billion people across the world lack adequate access to water. Credit: Julius Mwelu/IRIN

Water is a basic necessity, but more than 1.1 billion people across the world lack adequate access.

"That is not the only problem. People cannot access basic sanitation as well," says Mashauri of the University of Dar es Salaam . "Some hard facts about access to various forms of sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa are very scary."

According to Mashauri, 35 percent of Africans do not have access to sanitation of any kind. Fifty-three percent of Africans have access to a pit-latrine toilet – their own or a neighbours'. Just eight percent have access to a flush toilet.

The professor delivered the keynote address at the ninth edition of a water symposium sponsored jointly by WaterNet, the Water Research Fund for Southern Africa (WARFSA), the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWP-SA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The symposium, which this year has the theme "Water and Sustainable Development for the Improvement of Livelihoods," brings together delegates from across southern and eastern Africa.

Reginald Tekateka, the regional chair of GWP-SA, explained that the purpose of the symposium is to promote interaction among policy makers, academics, practitioners and those involved in the water sector as well as to look at areas that need further research and support. "The symposium places emphasis on integration of knowledge."

Mashauri pointed to a long history of developing water policy, beginning with a 1977 meeting in Argentina which led to the declaration of the 1980s as International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. But referring to the theme of the present conference, he suggested there is much left to do.

"Looking back over the United Nations time tunnel, conferences that were held played an important role in global policy making. This started in Argentina in 1977. In 1992 the Dublin Principles were conceived. But there is still no evidence on the ground of improved livelihood," Mashauri explained to the delegates.

Drawn up ahead of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the Dublin Principles urged a participatory approach to the development and management of water resources. Water, they state, is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life and the environment; it has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognised as an economic good; and women should play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of this precious resource.

The challenge ahead, said Mashauri, is greater investment in the sanitation sub-sector. "We need water and sanitation infrastructure financing, water conservation and equitable distribution."

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